‘We turn copper into gold’
When Daan de Wever and his brother Samuel founded Destiny, neither of them had much understanding or experience of running a telecom company. Nevertheless, they wanted to take on Belgium’s telecom giants. They succeeded: Destiny is now the leading provider of cloud-based communication solutions for the Belgian business market. Step one has been taken: now they want to press ahead and expand internationally, together with Mentha Capital.
From crisis strategy to philosophy
Samuel and I launched Destiny in 2008. Our goal was to take on the two big players in the Belgian telecom market. Yet we had no understanding of running such a company, nor did we have any relevant training. Moreover, such was our need for staff that we asked everyone in our area whether they were free. Despite our lack of experience we had the foresight to realize that telecommunications could be (and maybe simply had to be) more customer-focused.
‘When we first started, we were received with derision. Two young upstarts who were going to take on the established names of Proximus and Telenet!’
We started out by taking over the assets of a bankrupt company. At that stage, we did not yet have a financial plan in place. It seemed logical to us to first renegotiate the supplier contracts. We then drew up a business plan, together with Professor Bruggeman of the Vlerick Business School. We actually still use it now, 10 years later.
So on we went, looking for investors. This proved difficult, because the financial crisis was at its peak. In order to win over investors, we made an important choice: we did not paint a pretty financial picture, but instead enticed them with the sheer coolness of our project. We turn copper into gold. This is still our philosophy.
In 2009 we found a group of first-stage investors. We hired an experienced CEO who in five years was able to guide us in both management and the telecom sector. We then had more knowledge and experience, and only at that point did we see the bigger picture: we went from merely surviving to One day we want to be a one billion company. From that point on, the role of our first-stage investors was at an end. They no longer challenged us, while that was exactly what was required. We therefore parted company.
The next step
In the quest to find a new partner, we set one important condition: to be given the space to carry on doing our own thing. So selling was not an option. In addition, we wanted to show that our model worked across national borders. We could have chosen to team up with any one of a number of big parties, yet opted for Mentha Capital.
Mentha contributes practical ideas and acts as a sounding board. We discuss difficult issues in an equal way, by listening carefully to each other during our sparring sessions and not holding back when it comes to telling tell each other the truth. It’s always a bit of a search for the right balance between pure numbers and your gut feeling, but in this respect we work well together. If we reject a party, Mentha will ask why. But they ultimately trust us and never force us to do anything against our will.
We like to work with Mentha. We think that it’s not just about the financial side. A cultural fit is also essential. Mentha is an investor with a human touch: open, both in a formal and an informal sense. We clicked with Edo from day one, and also appreciated Dirk’s input. It was clear that they could help us take the next steps. Above all, their buy and build knowledge and experience is exactly what we need at this stage.
Scale-up as market leader
We are currently the leading provider of cloud-based communication solutions for the Belgian business market. With a product which you could call telecom-as-a-service: customers do not buy one product or one piece of technology, but a total package per person per month. That way we take away the burden from the customer as much as possible. Moreover, we really do build a bridge between the customer and the available technology, something that other big players do not.
‘Companies are too concerned with maintaining their cash flow. That’s how they stop innovation.’
We have evolved from a start-up to a scale-up. This means, among other things, that we look at work and employees in a different way. With a start-up, you mainly focus on expanding your company and staff, now we are more concerned with efficiency, freedom and fun.
We have grown rapidly: every six months you look back and see that you have left behind a completely different company from the one you now have. On the one hand this is a very good thing, on the other hand it requires us look at our business operations in a different way. So for example, when we recruit new colleagues we are not looking for who we need now, but are assessing who we will need in the future.
The customer is not stupid
As we said, we dream big. But more importantly, we want to make the bridge between technology and customer ever smarter. We do this by looking at what our customers need, rather than what we can offer them. That way we know for sure that their needs are met.
‘There are very few people who follow their dreams, either as entrepreneurs or in daily life.’
At home the customer is on Snapchat, WhatsApp, Netflix, Apple TV; all connected. So you can’t expect him to pick up a corded phone in the office and note his appointment on the planner manually. He wants to be able to do the same as he does at home. He is not stupid, and we should not want that either. He knows this is possible, we have to help him: not for our own business, but for him.
This is the way we want to grow, in a sustainable manner and by guiding companies to accelerate their adoption of technology. This is our mission. How do we achieve this? By expanding: within Belgium, but also internationally. For example, we recently announced the acquisition of the Dutch Motto Communications. Taking this step created the most advanced cloud-distribution platform in the Benelux. Together with Mentha, we continue to focus on our buy and build strategy. But no matter how big we become, we will continue to be the challenger of the entire IT sector. With total dedication.